Pinafores and Sailor Suits – The History of Children’s Fashion

In days gone by, there was no such thing as specific fashion for children. Little boys and girls, from the moment that they could walk, were dressed like their fathers and mothers.

Children’s clothing corresponded exactly to the world of adult fashion, right down to the minutest detail. Right up until the early eighteenth century, children were clothed according to their station in life, looking like miniatures of their parents.

Oil paintings from that era show wealthier families all dressed in their finest outfits. Sons wore fancy velvet suits with lace collars, and daughters wore elaborate dresses with layer upon layer of fancy silk. The richer you were, the more silk you wanted to show off. Folks from poorer situations, wore simpler clothes of rougher fabric, including wool, cotton and linen, or well worn hand me downs.

With the dawn of the industrial revolution, came the production of plenty of affordable cotton, and clothes began to become more roomy and comfortable. This was true for adults as well as children. At last people could move about more easily while going about their everyday tasks. Boys and girls could run and play with much more freedom. No longer were they weighed down by heavy rough fabrics. Society and fashion were becoming much more relaxed.

In the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras, long before the advent of washing machines, girls wore pinafores and smocks to protect their dresses from being soiled. An outfit for attending a party, a church service, or a wedding, demanded a highly decorated pinafore, complete with lace and embroidery. Everyday aprons were plain and devoid of decoration. Boys might be attired in a sailor suit with a big collar.

Even though clothing and fabrics were becoming less restrictive, young ladies and gentlemen still wore styles that evoked adult fashion. Girls wore dresses made out of white percale, dotted Swiss, muslin, and a yellow fabric called Nankeen that was imported from China. The empire line was in vogue, with high cut bodices, worn with a slip. Usually fashioned from muslin, this style was pulled together with a sash or ribbon, just under the bosom.

In the Romantic era, waistlines began moving down again. Dresses boasted fur trims, ruffles, and flounces. This new look was topped off by elaborately decorated hats and bonnets. Still, young ladies were dressed to look like mini adults, while their brothers might found wearing the infamous Little Lord Fauntleroy suit.

All women and girls wore long dresses, but in the early 1800’s, younger women began to shorten their skirts. If you were seventeen or eighteen, you were considered a young lady, and your skirts were ground length. A sixteen year old’s skirt would be ankle length, while a fourteen year old’s would graze the calf. A twelve year old enjoyed the freedom of a dress cut just below the knee. Boys would run around in short pants or knickers until they graduated into adulthood and the attendant long pants.

By the 1840’s, all women, no matter what their age, wore crinoline style shirts, pushed out to the limit with stiffly starched petticoats, reinforced with horsehair. Some time later, lighter hooped cage crinolines made out of wire, became the rage.

Since a sudden breeze could balloon a skirt and, horror or horrors, reveal a leg, pantaloons were invented. These roomy, long legged pants, made of while linen or cotton, did the trick. Very soon they became a fashion statement in themselves, embellished as they were with frilly white lace. This was the beginning of underwear that was made to be seen.

Gradually, the crinoline and petticoat began to migrate from the front, to the back, evolving into the adult bustle. Around this time, little girls fashion began to take on a style all its own. Young ladies favored long waisted dresses that hung out over a false pleated skirt.

By the early 1880’s, girls were wearing much slimmer styles, with dresses that bloused out over a deeply dropped sash that tied around the waist. This style was a precursor to the distinctive pouched blouse styles that came with the Edwardian era.

Little by little children’s clothing began to take on a life of its own. More and more folks began to travel, and this fact had a great influence on fashion. Tartan became extremely popular as a serviceable and good looking fabric, especially for kilts and school uniforms.

As more and more families migrated to the seashore for their annual summer holidays, nautical styles gained in popularity. Both girls and boys clothing sported large sailor collars with rows of braided trim. These styles continued on through the late Edwardian and Victorian eras. Quartermaster jackets with a dicky, created a false front that required no shirt underneath.

These early trends in children’s fashion have continuously gained momentum. Today, our children and grandchildren are able to dress to suit their every whim. From the moment they are born, parents and friends lavish them with the very latest designs. As they progress through the lower grades and on to high school, kids are bombarded with shows, movies and commercials, starring kids their own age, who they desperately want to emulate.

The way trends come and go these days, parents are left scrambling just to keep up. The latest outfits can be expensive, and if you have two or three kids, it can be a real kick in the wallet. One solution is to steer away from the malls and specialty stores and do your shopping online. There are many online wholesale clothing sites that specialize in wholesale children’s clothing and name brand designer clothing. You’ll be sure to find unique designer fashion that will please your child as well as your pocketbook.